All writing is a form of prayer - John Keats

Thursday, July 19, 2018

On judging the path if you haven't walked the journey

Father Greg Boyle was talking about gang members in Los Angeles. But he just as well could have been talking about prisoners in Michigan.

Every homie I know who has killed somebody---everyone---has carried a load one hundred times heavier than I have had to carry, weighed down by torture, violence, abuse, neglect, abandonment, or mental illness. Most of us have never borne that weight. We are free not to like that truth, but we are not free to deny it.

We’ve had a team working on commutation applications for persons in the Michigan prison system for the past year. As a part of this process, we ask them to prepare answers for the application form questions, which we then review. We do this not only to correct the errors of spelling and grammar, but to make certain that the answer is complete and appropriate.

Reading the words of these offenders is not for the faint of heart. First, there are the descriptions of the actual crimes, including the surroundings and the circumstances that led up to the offense. Even more telling, however, are the descriptions of, as Fr. Boyle puts it, “torture, violence, abuse, neglect, abandonment, or mental illness,” in the lives of those people who committed the crimes.

Fr. Greg’s observation: Most of us have never borne that weight.

Our staff and volunteers communicate with people behind bars on a daily basis, and we’re amazed over and over again as to the resiliency of the human spirit. The past cannot be erased, but the future can be different, it can even contain sunlight!

In his book BARKING TO THE CHOIR, Fr. Boyle says the fact that he never killed someone wasn’t because he knows the difference between right and wrong. It is because of three great fortunes that landed in his lap: His life was devoid of despair, there was no trauma in his upbringing that would lead to such rage, and he had never been plagued by mental illness.

These things aren’t excuses. We’re not trying to rationalize anything. It’s reality.

For those of us who have never walked down that path, may God give us the strength and courage and compassion to toss aside judgmentalism. Instead, may we embrace and support those who, having been there and having done that, now strive for a better future. They have courage. They have desire. The fact that God loves them isn’t enough. We must show them God’s love by holding their hands.

As Mahalia Jackson used to sing:

If I can help somebody, as I pass along
If I can cheer somebody, with a word or song
If I can show somebody, that he's traveling wrong
Then my living shall not be in vain


Robert Bulten said...

Thanks, Doug. These thoughts break my heart but also motivated me to live more like Jesus.

Cindy Anderson said...

Powerful, Doug. Thank you for reminding us of a sad but profound truth.